2501 Migrants: A Journey, is the story of Alejandro Santiago, an artist from Teococuilco, a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a small group of friends working on his ranch to create an homage to the numerous migrants that leave Mexico year after year to find a better life in the United States.
After living in France for 3 years, Santiago returns home to discover that his hometown is really more of a ghost townafter years of local residents migrating into the U.S. by whatever means are available.
Many of his neighbors and friends have suffered at the hands of corrupt government officials on both sides of the borders. Stories are told of people betrayed by human smugglers and left to perish in the brutal conditions of the desert. Many people have vanished without a trace. When bodies are found and identified, the costs of returning the remains back home often are financially devastating to the traumatized loved ones left behind.
In this documentary by Yolanda Cruz, Santiago explains that his vision of an installation featuring 2501 statues made of indigenous clay will provide a powerful visual impact on the observer. One statue for each of the migrants that have left Teococuilco, all assembled into one location, acting as a memorial for a community left gutted.
Santiago speaks of the struggles to put together such a large installation, the effort and time it took, and the dedication of his team of workers. Often times the workers had to wait several weeks until Santiago’s wife Zoila could sell one of his paintings to a wealthy patron. The crew stoically endured financial hardships in the interest of keeping the project going. The relevance of the issues to their own lives and a sense of responsibility to the community kept them going when things got tough. They wanted the voices of these lost migrants to be heard by the world.
The end result of these efforts is stunning; 2501 statues are arranged on a rolling hillside in Monterrey. Primitive, yet expressive in their grotesque features. Mournful faces convey the anguish the migrants must have experienced in their ordeal. The exhaustion, fear, and desperation exudes from the silent earthen creations of Mr. Santiago. People mingling amongst the rough hewn figures, marveling at the astounding array of of textures and color, are often visibly moved by the overwhelming emotions that the installation evokes.
As the documentary concludes, Alejandro Santiago and his team have started the process to obtain the permits and documentation to take this installation to an international audience. While many of the team members will have to return home to find stable work, some will accompany Santiago to carry this important message beyond the borders of Mexico.
this movie is available on DVD at the Grand Rapids Public Library
- Truckloads of migrants a billion-dollar business (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Mexico returns 400 of 513 migrants in trucks (msnbc.msn.com)
- 513 Migrants in Two Tractor-Trailers: Why Mexico’s Drug Cartels Are Moving into Human Smuggling (time.com)
- Mexico fires 7 officials from immigration agency (seattletimes.nwsource.com)